One more Egyptian feast to go in January!
Copts or Christian Egyptians celebrate the memory of Jesus baptism in the Jordan river or Epiphany feast on January the nineteenth every year. Typically, Copts abstain from eating meat and dairy for one day before the feast.
A deep-rooted food tradition of Epiphany mandates that Copts should eat Kolkas (taro) soup on the Epiphany feast when they break their fasting.
An interesting analogy is behind the association between Epiphany and Kolkas or taro soup.
Taro or kolkas (derived from the Latin name Colocasia esculenta) has a dark, stiff, and unattractive skin hiding a white, pristine flesh. To cook it, taro skin has to be peeled away and the flesh is immersed in hot soup mixed with blended greens (chard and cilantro).
In the Coptic narrative, the cooking process resembles baptism when a human soul is liberated from its sinful nature when immersed in baptism water. The greens in the soup refer to the new life.
Personally speaking, this traditional and unique Egyptian soup had become an elusive memory for the mere reason of taro paucity where I lived the last 11 years, up until I arrived in Singapore.
Taro is a starchy, tropical vegetable found in abundance in Asia. In Singapore, it is thinly sliced and deep-fried like potato chips, or steamed and served in a palm sugar sauce as dessert.
The same vegetable is handled differently in Egyptian cuisine. The Egyptian Kolkas (taro) recipe is a nutritious soup that has a deep, distinct flavor thanks to the cooked chard and cilantro blended with a rich beef or vegetable broth. A mixture of crushed garlic and ground coriander is fried in brown butter and added to the simmering soup. This mixture is called Taklia and it takes any dish it is added to to a whole new level of deliciousness.
Good experience of taro soup depends on three conditions:
a. Good quality of broth.
b. Fresh greens blended and cooked to perfection.
C. Taro cubes that are slime-free thanks to a thorough soaking and rinsing.
For the stock, you can either use homemade or store-bought vegetable or beef stock.
I personally prefer using either my homemade vegetable stock or beef bone stock flavored with bay leaves, herb stalks, cardamom, mastic, onions, and garlic.
Blend the green leaves with 1/2 cup of stock in the blender. In a fine-mesh sieve drain the leaves. Add the green liquid to the 2 cups of simmering stocks in a heavy bottom pan, and keep the solids to cook them.
The chard and cilantro solids should be cooked on low heat until they become dark in color. That is the most laborious step of the recipe.
Making the “taklia” (the mixture of fried garlic and ground coriander) is the last step and the most crucial one that lends to this soup its uniqueness.
When the garlic becomes fragrant, we add a couple of ladleful of stock to the garlic herbs mixture and then add it all to the soup. Watch this step-by-step video.
In case of using vegetable stock as a base for this soup, Koulkas becomes a full-fledged plant-based dish with a high nutritious value.
I suggest breaking the workload into two days.
Day#1, you cook the herbs. And that step is the most laborious ones, as the herbs take up to 30 minutes of stirring on low-medium heat to darken.
Peel the taro, cube it, and place it in cold water in the fridge.
Day #2 you just assemble the dish. In a heavy bottom pan, on low medium heat, you bring the green water to a mild simmering.
Simultaneously In a shallow frying pan, you reheat the cooked herbs, add the butter and the garlic. Once the garlic gets fragrant, you add the garlic herbs mixture to the soup.
Taro and head in Arabic (kolkas and rass) rhyme together, so the joke goes that those who don’t eat taro soup (koulkas) will wake up the next day beheaded (bedoun rass).
Other than this scary belief, there are multiple health benefits of taro that include but not limited to its ability to improve digestion, lower blood sugar levels, prevent certain types of cancers.
Kolkas (Taro-Greens) Soup
- 1 medium taro, diced
- 2 sprigs of chard
- 1 sprig of cilantro
- 1/2 cup and 2 cups of vegetable or beef stock, separated
- 1 taro
- 1 tablespoon of freshly crushed coriander
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoon of butter
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Peel the taro and dice it. Add the taro cubes to a deep container with cold water, and keep it in the fridge overnight or no less than 5 hours to get rid of its slimy liquid.
- Rinse the taro with tap water and keep it aside.
- Prepare the greens. Remove the stems, and keep the leaves of the chard and the fresh cilantro. In a blender, blend together the greens’ leaves with 1/2 cup of stock.
- Squeeze the water out of the blended greens with water. Added the green water to the two cups of stock and bring it to a light simmering on low heat.
- Add the diced taro to the simmering soup.
- In the meantime, fry the greens in a shallow frying pan until it darkens in color. Add the butter and the garlic, and coriander and stir until the mixture is fragrant. Add immediately to the simmering soup, cover the pan with its lid to concentrate the flavors, and turn off the heat.
- Adjust the salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
- This soup is best served hot, along with vermicelli rice and lemon wedges.
- Don’t wash the taro before cubing it as the water makes the skin slimy and difficult to peel away.
- To sharpen the taste of the soup, it is possible to add a cube of beef or vegetable stock to add flavor.